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TCM Toni

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About TCM Toni

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    twitter: @toniruberto

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    Buffalo, New York
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    Classic movies, Universal horror films and bad disaster flicks, plus reading and my dog.
  1. There is much to see in this multilayered opening to "Strangers on a Train." Hitchcock uses the "criss cross" metaphor both visually and through the music. As the two men walk toward each other, the editing cuts back and forth between them. We see the train tracks cross, then it takes one track as if to signify the men taking a fateful path. On the train, they sit across from each other then each crosses his legs until they touch which sets up their fateful meeting. Even the music has a criss-crossing sound as it echoes a motif between the two men. Hitchcock sets up the contrasting personalities of the men just by showing their shoes. Bruno's flashy wing-tipped shoes contrast dramatically with Guy's plain, dark ones. It continues with their suits in the same manner. Flashy pin stripes, tie and tie clip for Bruno; conservative dark sport coat and vest for Guy. Bruno is outgoing; Guy reserved. When Bruno sits next to Guy, shadows cross his face. Again it's a contrast but also signifies something darker about Bruno. It's all fun to watch, although we know it's all going to take a dark turn.
  2. The use of the mirror in this scene from "The Ring" was particularly effective and was a masterful move by such a young director. The short scene shows a few things we will see from Hitch throughout his career including cross-cutting and montages. We're watching people in two very different rooms. In one, we see serious looking men in black tuxedos talking to a boxer they appear to be grooming for a big fight. In the other room is a party with a much lighter tone. The boxer sees the reflection in a mirror of a woman, who it turns out is his wife. She's sitting on the lap of a man watching the dancing and then sees her husband's reflection in the same mirror. Is that guilt on her face? The dancing gets wilder, people are falling over each other, the champagne is flowing and there's a feeling the room is getting louder - even though it's a silent film (nice work by Hitch here)! Hitch continues his patented use of cross-cutting by showing the wife in one room and the boxer in the other. The boxer is told he will start training the next day but not to bring his wife. That appears to trouble him and he looks back into the mirror and sees his wife and the other man again. He grows upset and reality becomes distorted. He visualizes the image "leaving the mirror" and moving toward him. In a montage - another Hitchcock touch - the image of his wife and man is superimposed over the people in the room, growing bigger as things start to move out of control. There's a record spinning and large, distorted piano keys being played by a musician. The boxer sees his wife kissing the other man and he screams! He looks into the room but everyone is standing still staring at him. His wife isn't kissing anyone - it was just his imagination. But how much was real or imagined - just the kiss or the entire party? (I don't have that answer yet.) He doesn't want to leave his wife but he's told not to worry by the promoters who, clearly out to use him, prey on his insecurities by saying the other man is "a champ" and he's not - yet. The boxer smiles: It looks like he's going to fight. I'm looking forward to watching the entire film to see how this all works out.
  3. I find the music has two roles in this scene. First it builds the dramatic tension. At the start of the scene it is simply background music, although it is light and playful, not what you would expect to hear. As the tension in the room escalates - the blinds are drawn, the room is enveloped in darkness and Hume Cronyn's character, the captain, becomes more sinister - the music escalates as well. It begins to swell, the strings repeat and amplify the nervous tension in the room. As the captain lifts the stick to again beat the reporter, the music hits its high, dramatic notes. When the beating is over, he turns the music off. The music also is used to hide the sounds of the beating. The captain turns it up when he is "going in for the kill/confession" then turns it off when he is done (there won't be anymore sounds of beating or screams he needs to hide). I think it fits in with post war noir because there appears to be a loss of freedom for the reporter, who is beaten by a man in authority with "brute force" and seemingly no justification. That feeds into the fears of Americans who at the time were not trusting of authority or strangers and feared their own loss of freedom.
  4. Though set in 1918, film noir elements are found throughout this early scene. Multiple doorways are used as claustrophobic framing devices, a mirror in the background shows his reflection, a large number of train tracks take over full frames. There are elements of formalism as the terrified man goes on the run and a nightmarish sequence begins with a spinning train "wheel," dissolving into his sweaty, disoriented face, dissolving back again and then, in the middle of the frame, a train starts to come right to us. That sequence in particular highlights the noir themes of desperation, disorientation. Also, is his running away instead of calling for help going to be his fatal mistake? The Salvation Army Band appearance has two meanings for me. First, it underscores the noir theme of how fate enters life at any moment - it's a normal day on a pretty street where houses are surrounded by white picket fences. The Salvation Army Band is even playing - what could go wrong? The other thing it signifies is the opportunity for redemption, especially through help of others as the sign reads "through the kindness of your heart."
  5. If I had not read the words of Foster Hirsch, I don't think I would have thought this scene was part of a film that "signaled the end of a movie cycle." However, I definitely would have though something was off. First that opening minute: the RKO logo accompanied by train sounds cuts away to an approaching train with a suddenly blinding light. Abruptly it cuts to the film's title in huge letters and the loud, jarring ringing of the alarms at a train crossing. The movie title slides to the right and we see a sign: Chicago Yard Limit. It's tilted at a peculiar angle; that image slides away and the camera moves to the right and we see a train that is slowly coming to a stop. That sequence has noir elements (night, train, shadows, sounds) but it is comical, not noirish to me, especially the "swooshing" camera and odd train noises. Then we get to the dialogue of the two cops. I don't know that it's a parody of the hard-boiled school (it is only a few minutes), but it is definitely poorly written. It sounds like something I would write if I attempted to do a noir screenplay! "Your cigar is dead." "I'm thinking of changing brands for something with a self-starter on it." "What kind of dish?" "A 60-cent special." "What kind of dame would marry a hood?" The entire sequence looks and sounds like someone had the checklist for film noir and marked things off without quite having the talent to pull it off.
  6. It is all about the timing in this opening scene from "Kansas City Confidential." A man is watching a bank from a window high above across the street. Silently he watches with a steel gaze, checking the clock on the bank as well as his watch. He is timing the arrival and departures of the police, a delivery man and an armored car. He hits the timer button on his watch twice and checks off the times on a large sheet of paper. It is a painstaking process but everything is precise and timed to the second. It appears to all be going according to plan. This short segment is intriguing because it is silent, yet the man's actions speak volumes. The opening crawl acts as a silent narration to set up the story in a realist manner. To that point, the crawl talks about lurid chapters in the annals of the KC police department of those brought to punishment, but that this film was meant to expose one criminal who executed the perfect crime. It's very enticing. Cut to the words Kansas City in large letters across the screen. It feels like news reel footage, another hallmark of realist noir. The heist is a good topic for noir because we get to see the motives of various characters and that gives interesting looks into their minds. Heists also usually have multiple elements with a many things that can go wrong and that increases the tension. These films also carry noir themes like greed, revenge, mistrust and threats.
  7. This short segment from "99 River Street" was as brutal outside of the ring as it was in the ring. The opening shots take the viewer right into the ring using a realistic shooting style with close-ups of a bloody face jaggedly intercut with POV shots of the champ who is doing the pummeling. From these close shots to the crowd noise and the voice of the announcer sounding like he is sitting right next to us, we feel like we are ringside. Finally, Ernie goes down with his bloody face caught on a lower rope staring at the viewer. He could almost be dead. The camera then pulls back and just by the grainy look of the boxers, their slow-motion movements and the tinny sound of the announcer, we are taken out of the ring and transported into the real world where Ernie is watching a replay of the fight. His wife is sitting at the dinner table behind him looking quite bored. Instead of those quick-cutting close-ups, the editing and camera now linger with Ernie watching himself on TV or medium shots of the two talking. His wife often towers over him, she needles him about not being a boxer anymore, but just being a cab driver with dreams of opening a gas station. "I'd have been a star if it hadn't been for you," she says, bitterly. Is this our femme fatale - a bitter woman who wants money, stardom and the finer things in life but she's tied to a man she feels is a loser? And what about that diamond bracelet? That hints at something else going on her life. (The shot of her arm reaching in to shut off the TV with the bracelet glistening over the footage of her husband is priceless.) I feel this dynamic between husband and wife also is a commentary on society where hard working but poor individuals are made to feel guilty for not providing enough for their wife/family. It also speaks to the need for celebrity/stardom - the selfish wife is bitter because she's not a star; the husband is broken because he's not the champ. It's a brutal, unhappy life. @toniruberto
  8. This scene seems very straightforward, easier to read than some of the other noir scenes we have witnessed. It starts with a reunion of two (of three) old friends after nearly 20 years. They are sitting in an office and are using some elements of noir in a subtle way. They are smoking and have an early morning drink as the window blinds filter out some of the bright sun, leaving light shadows on the wall. It's nothing ominous - but we get inklings of that later in their interactions. When Walter's secretary buzzes to say his wife has arrived, he oddly tells her to wait, but Sam wants to see her. Walter seems reluctant for the two to meet again and we can see why as Martha and Sam embrace upon meeting again. The camera is close on the two as they embrace, but we can clearly see Walter in the background. The three may all be in the camera frame, but Walter is the odd man out. He is jealous, which never leads to anything good in film noir. Sam is still smitten by Martha, and that usually isn't good either. From her words and actions, it appears Martha isn't very happy in her marriage. Walter also seems possessive and perhaps even quick tempered and a heavy drinker. This is all a lethal combination in film noir that definitely won't lead to anything good and could very well end in murder.
  9. This scene from "Too Late for Tears" has some of the elements from previous "road noir" we have seen of late: the dark highway, the isolation, a feeling of the viewer being put into the middle of the story. It doesn't have the feeling of foreboding of the opening of films like "Kiss Me Deadly" or "The Hitchhiker," however, but I think that is what helps it work so well. We may not know exactly where we are in the story, but that's not upsetting as it was in the previous films where there was clearly something bad happening. In "Tears," it seems like an ordinary night on the road. We meet Jane and Alan in their car. They look like an average (and innocent) couple in their humble clothing. But Jane does look a bit odd, emotionless until she quietly asks her husband to turn the car around - she doesn't want to go to their friends house where she feels she won't be treated well. Again, this isn't out of the ordinary for a woman to feel inferior (unfortunately); Jane tells Alan their friend's "diamond-studded wife is looking down on me." But this couple's ordinary day takes a turn into noir with a random twist of fate as a bag full of money is thrown into their back seat. Not only has fate stepped in with a case of mistaken identity, but now it has dealt a second blow: they've been spotted by the intended recipient of the cash. Suddenly, meek and mild Jane, who was afraid to be "looked down upon" only a minute earlier, now takes control and speeds off as they are chased along the highway. The change in Jane's face from no emotion to an almost gleeful smirk is fantastic. Jane has made her fateful choice down a dark road and it probably won't be a good trip.
  10. I agree that Alfred Hitchcock should be a special case when it comes to considering film noir directors. And if we are to believe, as Foster Hirsch said, that Hitchcock is a noir stylist, then we may also believe that film noir is a style, not a genre or movement. "Strangers on a Train" is a great film to make my case; it's a thriller, but the look and feel is also noir. This short opening sequence holds many motifs of film noir including heavy shadows, framing devices (the large arches at train station), the use of music and bold/interesting compositions (railroad tracks crisscrossing each other). Although we don't see it all in this short opening, the film also employs character motifs of film noir: people on the move (train), the role of fate (two men walking toward each other), a fatal mistake and revenge (a man wanting his father dead). But there are differences from other noir films, too. It's daytime, though there are shadows. There is not the typical noir feeling of heaviness and malaise - at least not yet. Though the music starts out dramatic, it takes on a playful tone as we are introduced to two characters - or two pairs of feet would be more accurate, another light touch. A cab pulls up to the railroad station and a pair of black and white wing-tipped shoes step out of the car. Another cab and another pair of shoes: this time they are black. This is the first clue about the two characters: one wears flashy shoes, the other a more sensible pair. The "feet" then walk toward each other - first in the train station, then, after we see miles of criss-crossing train tracks, on the train. The lives of these two men are about to crisscross and collide. Mr. Wing Tips sits first, crosses his legs and then is joined by Mr. Sensible Shoes who does the same and accidentally taps Mr. WT's shoes under the table. Their fates are locked and lives will be changed forever. As the film progresses it takes on the much darker tone of film noir - both visually and emotionally - and the theme of "crisscross" becomes much more prevalent. To say more would spoil it for others who haven't seen the movie yet. @toniruberto
  11. The opening scene of "D.O.A." isn't flashy or loud, but it is an attention grabber that makes you want to stick around for the rest of the film. A man walks into a police station with a purposeful stride. We only see him from the back, but we - and the camera - follow him as he walks through the station and then down a very, very long hallwall lined with doors. The camera doesn't cut away and it almost feels like he'll never get to his destination. He finally turns and opens a door labeled Homicide Division. He wants the man in charge. "I want to report a murder," he says. "Who was murdered?" he is asked. It's only then that we see his face - exhausted, worried with a sickly pallor. "I was," he replies. It is is riveting. Like the characters we've met throughout our other daily doses this week, Frank Bigelow is a desperate man and one on the move. He looks hopeless, yet somehow he is trying to hold it together. We see that in his determined stride; we see it as he tries to keep control by reporting his own "murder." Yet there's no doubt through the themes and motifs we are now accustomed to seeing, that the situation is bleak. Frank is like other heroes of existential works who are faced with the "threat of imminent death," often through no fault of their own. It is blind chance, or as Albert Camus called it, the "benign indifference" of the world, that sends them to their fate. It is a bleak world. "D.O.A." goes beyond the use of night and shadows that are often used in noir to show us the darkness, by giving us the "black vision" of emotions like dread, anguish, isolation to help us feel the darkness. Even the movie's title - "D.O.A." - helps emphasize the hopelessness.
  12. Good point about the women's clothing and how ordinary they are; plus the question about how much control she had over her life before she went to prison.
  13. Yes, I agree too. I think having the opening credits so prominent and obscuring the background was meant to make it difficult to see what was happening, adding to the confusion and feeling of being trapped.
  14. All three of the Daily Doses this week introduced us to films with opening scenes that are disturbing and confusing. Again with "Caged" we don't know where we are. The opening credits fill the screen and slowly we can make out something behind them. Then we hear a police siren. A small square pops up in the middle, but most of the screen is still in darkness. I'm sure audiences that originally saw this on a big screen would have seen much more of what is happening in that small square than we can on a computer, but I think the effect is relatively the same. Watching on the big screen they would have seen more through what we learn is a car windshield, but they would have had much more blackness as well, adding to a feeling of confinement. Watching on the smaller screen, we can't quite make out what's happening through that small square right away and that adds to the confusion as well as feeling we are confined. And that brings us to why the opening is appropriate for a film about women in prison as well as making the viewer feel as caged as the characters. There is an oppressive blackness on most of the screen and a small hole that gives us confusing glimpses of the outside world while making us feel compressed. Both work in their own way to give off a feeling of being trapped or crushed, it doesn't feel like there's enough air to breathe. When the car stops and a back door opens to shine a light on the face of a scared young woman, it's a bit of a shock to the viewer. We easily pick up on her emotion. We can see hands of other people around her, but the bodies are in darkness. Again it feels very confined. The cruelty of the man who says "Pile out you tramps, it's the end of the line" gives off an immediate feeling of dread and hopelessness. We don't know why these women have been brought to the prison - clearly they've done something wrong - but we pity them. It feels like they are being stripped of their dignity with the brutality of those words. When the women turn for their last glimpse of the city beyond the prison gates, you get the feeling they are cut off from the world and any kindness and hope it may have held. The bleakness of the film noir style, especially the heavy shadows, adds significantly to the opening scene. If the director added more lighting so we could see all the women, as well as what was outside the car, then both the confusion and feelings of being confined or trapped are gone. It would feel more like a normal ride - even if it is to prison - without the dread we're feeling. It's a very unsettling opening. @toniruberto
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